$51 million NIH grant brings ELVIS to VUMCSep. 19, 2023, 3:26 PM
by Paul Govern
Having received a seven-year, $51 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, biomedical scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are launching a research platform devoted to molecular underpinnings of early-childhood determinants of health.
The project, called ELVIS, or, less connotatively, the ECHO Laboratory core at Vanderbilt for Integrated Sample biobanking and processing, is part of an expansion of ECHO, the NIH’s multi-center Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes program, which launched in 2016 with an initial $157 million in funding, including to teams at VUMC.
Under ELVIS, biospecimens collected around the country from participants in ECHO’s long-term research cohorts will arrive for biobanking and analysis at VUMC, and data from the ensuing molecular assays will flow to ECHO-qualified researchers everywhere via a secure web portal.
“Whether it’s to do with pollution and chemical exposures or things like diet and stress, we’ve come to understand that a range of early childhood experiences and environmental exposures can all too frequently pose significant long-term health consequences,” said Suman Das, PhD, research associate professor of Medicine and project leader and principal investigator for ELVIS.
“We’ll bring VUMC’s exceptional resources and know-how in biobanking, molecular analysis and research data management to bear on various exposures under study by ECHO. This is an opportunity to broadly advance understanding of these exposures at the molecular level, where the hidden drama of chronic disease can begin to unfold early in life.”
ECHO currently comprises 69 long-term research cohorts, with participation from some 41,000 mothers and 64,000 of their children. The program has five outcome areas under study: pre-, peri-, and postnatal outcomes, upper and lower airway, obesity, neurodevelopment and well-being. ECHO encompasses all manner of exposures influencing these outcomes — physical, chemical, societal, medical, psychosocial, behavioral, biological.
ECHO’s core biospecimens include DNA from the biological parents; pregnant participants’ blood, urine, hair and toenails; and children’s DNA, blood, urine, hair, toenails and shed teeth.
Targeted and untargeted assays conducted through ELVIS will variously involve single chemicals or panels, genetics, proteomics, microbiome analysis, metabolomics (sweeping analysis of small molecules that figure as substrates and products of metabolism), and the genomic sequencing of entire microbial communities sampled from the environment (microbial metagenomics).
“This research award speaks to the scientific expertise and capabilities around biospecimen banking and data engineering at Vanderbilt and the especially collaborative nature of our research teams,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, VUMC Chief Scientific and Strategy Officer. “We look forward to a long and productive engagement with scientists and their research cohorts from around the country who are joined in a shared vision of advancing an understanding of health through this important lens of early-childhood exposures.”
Das, a viral immunologist by training, is joined in the project by co-principal investigators Jane Freedman, MD, professor of Medicine and associate director, High-throughput Biomarker Core; Simon Mallal, MBBS, professor of Medicine and scientific director, VANTAGE (Vanderbilt Technologies for Advanced Genomics); John McLean, PhD, professor of Chemistry and director, Center for Innovative Technologies; and Ravi Shah, MD, associate professor of Medicine and associate director, High-throughput Biomarker Core.
ELVIS is supported by NIH grant U24OD035523.